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Water and Sanitation

Millennium Development Goal on access to drinking water has been achieved

In 2000, at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, leaders from 189 countries agreed on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), setting targets for poverty reduction. Two targets relate specifically to water and sanitation:

  • the "water target": - to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015.
  • the "sanitation target": - to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.

In 2010 the Millennium Development Goal on sustainable access to drinking water has been achieved. This achievement has been reached five years before the deadline of 2015.

At the end of 2010, 89% of the world’s population, or 6.1 billion people, used improved drinking water sources, according to the report, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012 , by the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation.

This result passes the threshold of 88% that was set up as an MDG target. However, the sanitation MDG still remains off track with 63% of people having access to improved sanitation (against the aim of 75% by 2015).

The EU has significantly contributed to this achievement the financial and political support delivered through the National and Regional Indicative Programs, the Water Facility and the Water Initiative.

EU aid is making a difference

Between 2004 and 2009 , thanks to support from the European Commission, more than 32 million people have gained access to improved water supply and 9 million to sanitation facilities.

Financing for water and sanitation programmes, which help build infrastructure for drinking and waste water systems, and provide basic sanitation and hygiene, amounts to almost €400 million per year; programmes are implemented in over 30 countries. Projects target the most vulnerable and needy groups in rural and peri-urban areas. Each project ensures active participation of local partners such as NGOs or local government.

Today, the EU (European Commission and Member States) provides close to €1.5bn each year for water and sanitation programmes in developing countries - making it the biggest contributor.

The European Development Policy in water and sanitation

EU development policy promotes an integrated framework for water resources management, drawing on European experience with managing river basins and jointly managing transboundary rivers, and a whole range of European approaches to managing water and sanitation services. There are three priorities:

  • universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation to reduce poverty, improve public health and increase livelihood opportunities
  • establishing and strengthening organisations and infrastructure for the sustainable and equitable management of transboundary rivers, lakes and groundwater 
  • coordinating fair, sustainable and appropriate distribution of water between different users

 EU aid combines political and financial support to help developing countries respond to the water crisis, particularly in

  • Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP countries)
  • Neighbourhood 
  • Asia and Latin America; 

The European Water Initiative (EUWI), launched in 2002, is an international political initiative that mobilises all available EU resources and to coordinate them to achieve the water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in partner countries. 10 years after its launch, the EUWI has helped to improve access to water across the world and to put water at the heart of development policies.

The EU Water Initiative (EUWI) has moreover allowed promoting the development of national water and sanitation sector policies/strategies and attracting new funds for water and sanitation in developing countries.

Through national policy dialogues, the EUWI aims to improve coordination & cooperation and deliver more effective development assistance. It takes a partnership approach, bringing together the European Commission, EU countries, governments in partner countries, civil society groups, local governments and water operators in the private sector.

The objectives of the initiative are being implemented through integrated water resource management founded on a river basin approach. Under the umbrella of this partnership, the EU provides expertise and knowledge on sustainable management and distribution of water, including appropriate pricing policies.

The partnership also focuses on local capacity building and regional cooperation. For example, in Africa, where there are 60 trans-boundary rivers, proper management can help lay the foundation for strong regional cooperation. The partnership will also improve the efficiency of financial mechanisms through coordination and streamlining of existing and future activities.

As a direct result of the EU Water Initiative, the "Water Facility" was created to deliver and leverage investment in water and sanitation services in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Thanks to a budget of € 712 M (9th and 10th EDF )  - including a 12M contribution by the Spanish government - it has mobilised local governments, local water operators and civil society in the provision of services, and in contributing to better governance and management.

The EU also works to improve prosperity, stability and security in its "neighbourhood countries" around the Mediterranean Sea and along the Eastern border of the EU.

Political dialogue and financing for infrastructure investments

The EU-Africa Partnership on Infrastructure provides the framework for political dialogue on developing and financing hydraulic infrastructure and water institutions responsible for transboundary water management.
The partnership addresses:

  • transboundary basin management;
  • flood preparedness programmes; 
  • knowledge and monitoring of water resources for better water management;
  • sustainable regional water infrastructure.

The partnership responds directly to the need for regional integration and growth voiced by the African Union, and is supported by an infrastructure trust fund designed to leverage additional finance for infrastructure development by blending EU grants with loans from the European Investment Bank and other European and African development financing institutions.

Health consequences of the water and sanitation crisis in developing countries

or some of the world's population - access to safe drinking water still remains a distant dream. With no choice but to use water from dirty ponds or polluted rivers, they can spend up to 6 hours a day carrying water instead of going to work or school and they suffer from diarrhoea, tuberculosis and cholera and other water-borne diseases.

Access to basic sanitation is as important as access to drinking water. But, some 2.6 billion people - nearly half of the world's population - do not have decent toilets. The consequences are disastrous: more than 4 500 children under the age of 5 years die each day from preventable diseases caused by pollution, dirty water and poor hygiene. The lack of clean water, hygiene and basic sanitation is a great human tragedy.

Other consequences:

  • crop failure in irrigated fields 
  • cattle dying of thirst 
  • small businesses paralysed by power cuts caused by limited hydro-power 
  • precious aquatic ecosystems destroyed through over-extraction or pollution of water.

Aggravating factors:

  • Climate change will affect the water cycle and make the crisis much worse.
  • Population growth and changing lifestyles, rapid urbanisation and economic development are dramatically increasing the demand for the limited water resources in developing countries. 
  • In the last century, water use grew more than twice as fast as the population. As a result, floods, droughts and water shortages will become even more frequent in many developing countries where rainfall is already irregular and water resources scarce.

Developing countries need to invest in the sustainable management of their water resources - they need to share water from transboundary rivers and lakes and learn to adapt to changes in water availability. Water shortages threaten to aggravate political tensions and conflicts between countries linked by rivers and lakes.

Last update: 20/03/2013 | Top